studioSTRIKE’s Researcher in Residence, Rosalie Allain reviews London exhibition Social Fabric “focusing on the textile industry and its relation to capital, labour, colonialism, international trade and radical politics”
The Social Fabric exhibition at Iniva combined the spheres of art and politics, bringing them together through an exploration of the social life of textiles. Textiles are here shown to be woven not just out of cotton, looms and fingers – but woven through social relationships and by historical forces.
The exhibition contained two core artworks – Alice Creischer’s installation Apparatus for the Osmotic Compensation of the Pressure of Wealth during the Contemplation of Poverty and a set of paintings by the Indian artist Sudhir Patwardhan looking at the lives of Mumbai’s mill workers in the 80s, where the world’s largest mill strikes happened. His paintings explore people and places: his earlier portraits of millworkers looked at the tension in their double identity as individuals and as ‘workers’, as representations of the category of the working class. His 2001 painting Lower Parel is more a story than an image: it exposes the social changes that have taken place in Mumbai as a consequence of the 1982 textile strikes, by representing the spatial changes that have transformed the city over the last 30 years.
The works of both artists were complemented by archives of photos, cloth, newspaper cuttings and short films. Both investigate the history of textiles as the history of colonialism, slavery and economic exploitation. They remind us that textiles and fabric aren’t just independent ‘things’ and ‘objects’, but are made by people, through work and labour.The exhibition ended with a day of discussions with the artists and researchers where the relationship between politics and art and theory was explored. These looked at the practices and methods of art – how artists mix art and research, how they express this research and abstract histories and politics through their art.
The ideas behind the Social Fabric exhibition go to the very heart of the Bread and Roses Centennial, and the original Bread and Roses strikes, which were organized by millworkers, who earned their bread and butter by making textiles. The strikes by millworkers in Bombai and Lawrence, Massachusetts are separated by seven decades and thousands of miles – and yet they parallel each other in the political impact they had and are born out of the same social and economic forces. In the same way that Social Fabric mixes art, history and politics, we at studioSTRIKE will be bringing the Bread and Roses strikes back to life via art installations, archival explorations and of course films.
The Social Fabric exhibition is sadly over, but a similar play with art and politics will be happening during the Bread and Roses Centennial, especially through our art installations and workshops. Come along to the Open Studio days and see for yourself!